Glam rocks!

Se­quins have had a cool up­date on the high street this sea­son, tak­ing them from gaudy to glam­orous among big de­sign­ers. By Han­nah Mar­riott

The Guardian - G2 - - Style -

It is all too easy to throw shade at se­quins. Well, not lit­er­ally, ob­vi­ously, but for cer­tain fash­ion tastemak­ers – let’s imag­ine them as a ca­bal of Kin­folk read­ers who only wear navy, grey and camel-coloured cash­mere – se­quins are a turn-off. Se­quins are not taste­ful, in the sub­tle, un­der­stated sense. They seek to at­tract at­ten­tion. They are Mar­i­lyn, not Au­drey. They are Bob Mackie and Rupaul and Jes­sica Rab­bit and Bey­oncé on stage in a leo­tard and Bianca Jag­ger at the Met Ball in 1974. (I mean, come on, guys. What’s not to love?)

Some­thing shiny is hap­pen­ing in fash­ion. You ex­pect to see se­quins on the high street in Novem­ber, but this year’s gems will hold the of­fice party to a higher stan­dard. There are pen­cil skirts in clash­ing stripes at Zara and shim­mer­ing, liq­uid-like mid­night-blue turtle­necks at & Other Sto­ries. These are se­quins that do not carry a whiff of Christ­mas-tree naffness, un­apolo­get­i­cally de­signed to be worn at night.

In de­signer fash­ion, even min­i­mal­ists such as Cé­line are us­ing se­quins, while many oth­ers – Dior, Margiela, Vic­to­ria Beck­ham – are de­ploy­ing se­quins’ glam cousins: glit­ter, rhine­stones and crys­tals. Con­sider the rise of fash­ion’s cur­rent dar­ling, Michael Halpern, a young de­signer whose 70sin­flu­enced work has in­spired the likes of Amal Clooney to pile on the bling. Lit­tle won­der that se­quins are al­ready key to the new Vogue un­der Ed­ward En­nin­ful, seen on Kate Moss at the launch party and on cover star Ad­woa Aboah in the mag­a­zine.

Ashish Gupta is the de­signer most as­so­ci­ated with se­quins, us­ing them on straight-up beau­ti­ful dresses and po­lit­i­cally charged slo­gan T-shirts (“STAY WOKE” and “QUEER” look glo­ri­ous in se­quins). “I used to think of [us­ing se­quins] as a lit­tle bit of a re­volt against bland­ness and bor­ing fash­ion,” he says. “Now, in light of ev­ery­thing that is hap­pen­ing, I find the idea of se­quined slo­gans amaz­ing, of say­ing some­thing se­ri­ous us­ing a medium that is not usu­ally taken that se­ri­ously.”

Some of the his­tory of se­quins sounds – ap­pro­pri­ately enough – a bit em­bel­lished. The Smith­so­nian cites Leonardo da Vinci as a se­quin pi­o­neer be­cause he once made a sketch for a ma­chine that could punch discs out of a me­tal sheet. More con­vinc­ingly, Tu­tankhamun is considered an early adopter, given that he was buried with gold discs stitched into his gar­ments, pre­sum­ably to con­fer wealth and sta­tus and ward off evil in the af­ter­life.

One of the V&A’S ear­li­est ex­am­ples of se­quins on Euro­pean fash­ion is a jacket from around 1610, al­though, says cu­ra­tor Son­net Stan­fill, “ex­ca­va­tions from much ear­lier pe­ri­ods” have shown the stitch­ing of “coins and pre­cious me­tals on to clothes to show rank” to be an an­cient pur­suit.

For Gupta, this his­tory demon­strates se­quins’ ca­pac­ity to be­come “al­most quite a sa­cred, spir­i­tual thing”. He can get quite deep when he is talk­ing about se­quins. He cites French philoso­pher Mark Alizart’s TED talk about hu­mans’ fas­ci­na­tion with blink­ing lights and the hu­man in­ter­est in “fire­flies, wa­ter re­flect­ing light; there is al­most a pri­mal need for light and wa­ter. There are sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments that prove that hu­mans are at­tracted to glossy, shiny things.”

Gupta’s per­sonal se­quin ref­er­ences range from Dorothy’s ruby slip­pers and 80s Bol­ly­wood to Leigh Bow­ery, whose quote – “The rea­son I use se­quins at the mo­ment is be­cause if I can­not cast

the light, at least I can re­flect it” – is a mantra that has helped him through dif­fi­cult times. He con­sid­ers se­quins’ rise to be po­lit­i­cally timely: “There is such a feel­ing of help­less­ness against so many things,” he says. “It could be a re­sponse to that in a way, a search for light and higher ground.”

For Stan­fill, se­quins are his­tor­i­cally no­table for their use by elite ech­e­lons of so­ci­ety “as a means of sar­to­rial distinc­tion and a demon­stra­tion of the abil­ity to pay for the high­est level of crafts­man­ship”, she says. “They are a won­der­ful ex­pres­sion of the de­sire to put your best self for­ward no mat­ter what cen­tury you are dress­ing – the very hu­man urge to dress up.”

That urge has even been dan­ger­ous. In the 30s, se­quins were made from elec­tro­plated gelatin. The pos­si­bil­ity of suf­fer­ing a se­quin-based in­jury was per­ilously high given that “they would melt when warm or over­heated”. Now se­quins are more likely to be made of vinyl plas­tic, al­though still more tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances are be­ing de­vel­oped with the hope of mak­ing se­quins sus­tain­able. “It’s fas­ci­nat­ing how many it­er­a­tions there have been,” says Stan­fill, who sees the many tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments as com­pelling ev­i­dence of hu­man­ity’s ded­i­ca­tion to the cause of self-adorn­ment.

Not all ad­ven­tures in se­quins are suc­cess­ful, given that so many gar­ments tend to de­velop bald patches. Sure enough, good se­quins tend to be ex­pen­sive, mainly be­cause stitch­ing them on prop­erly is so la­bo­ri­ous. (I have it on good au­thor­ity that hand­stitched se­quins are usu­ally knot­ted in­di­vid­u­ally, whereas ma­chine-cre­ated high-street ver­sions are likely to be stitched in sec­tions, so that if one goes, the whole sec­tion un­threads.)

Per­haps the loveli­est thing about se­quins is that they are best ex­pe­ri­enced in per­son. Al­though they have been pop­u­lar from the early days of Hol­ly­wood – with ac­tors such as Mar­lene Di­et­rich us­ing them to cre­ate oth­er­worldly ra­di­ance – their twin­kle and shine can­not be truly repli­cated through a screen. The app Ki­rakira was re­cently launched for this very rea­son – in an at­tempt to bring 3D sparkle to 2D pho­to­graphs on In­sta­gram – and while its ef­fects are very beau­ti­ful, they can­not match se­quins’ real-life lu­mi­nes­cence. Nor can they beat the ex­pe­ri­ence of wear­ing se­quins and, be­ing your own disco ball, throw­ing pat­terns of light on to the wall.

So, no, se­quins still aren’t taste­ful, in a min­i­mal­ist-black-turtle­neck kind of way. But don’t they of­fer some­thing bet­ter and more nec­es­sary? As Gupta says: “They ac­tu­ally light you up.”

(Top to bot­tom) Mar­garet La­ton’s 17th-cen­tury jacket; a mask for Tu­tankhamun; Dorothy’s Wizard of Oz slip­pers

High-street gems: (top) jumper, £49, & Other Sto­ries;

(be­low) pen­cil skirt, £49.99, Zara

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